He descended from the waggon with the crowd of jaded conscripts and mingled with that common and cosmopolitan crowd which now defiles the city of the Caesars. The fatigue of his body, and the cramped pain of his aching spine, added to the moral and the mental suffering which was upon him as he moved a stranger and alone along the new, unfamiliar streets where, alone here and there, some giant ruin, some stately arch, some marble form of god or prophet, recalled to him the Urbs that he had known.
But he remembered the mission on which he came; and he rebuked his self-indulgence in mourning for his own broken fate.
“I am a faithless servant and a feeble friend,” he thought in self-reproach. “Let me not weaken my poor remnant of strength in egotism and repining. I come hither for Adone and the Edera. Let me think of my errand only; not of myself, nor even of this desecrated city.”
It was now the season to plough the reapen fields, and he had always taken pleasure in his straight furrows; as straight as though measured by a rule on the level lands; and of the skill with which on the hilly ground Orlando and Rinaldo moved so skillfully, turning in so small a space, answering to every inflection of his voice, taking such care not to break a twig of the fruit trees, or bend a shoot of the vines, or graze a stem of the olives.
“Good hearts, dear hearts, faithful friends and trusty servants!” he murmured to the oxen. He leaned his bare arms on the great fawn-coloured flanks of Orlando, and his forehead on his arms, which grew wet with hidden tears.
The cattle stood motionless, breathing loudly through their distended nostrils, the yokes on their shoulders crinking, their hides twitching under the torment of the flies. Nerina, who had been washing linen in the Edera, approached through the olives; she hesitated a few minutes, then put the linen down off her head on to the grass, gathered some plumes of featherfew and ferns, and brushed the flies off the necks of the oxen. Adone started, looked up in displeasure at being thus surprised, then, seeing the intruder was only the little girl, he sat down on the side of the plough, and made believe to break his noon-day bread.
“You have no wine,” said the child. “Shall I run to the house for a flask?”
“No, my dear, no. If I am athirst there is water — as yet there is water!” he murmured bitterly, for the menace of this impending horror began to grow on him with the fixity and obsession of a mania.
Nerina continued to fan the cattle and drive off the flies from their necks. She looked at him wistfully from behind the figures of the stately animals. She was afraid of the sorrow which was in the air. No one had told her what the evil was which hung over the Terra Vergine; and she never asked questions. The two elder women never took her into their confidence on any subject, and she had no communication with the few people in Ruscino. She had seen that something was wrong, but she could not guess what: something which made Madonna Clelia’s brows dark, and Gianna’s temper bad, and Adone himself weary and ill at ease.